Plucked from League One to win against David Beckham, be guarded by armed police and indirectly displaced by Barack Obama, few footballers hold rich and uncharted tales like David Foley.
After being scouted during a Hartlepool reserves game, David Foley was tantalised with the irrefutable prospect of a far-flung voyage to the tropical paradise of Puerto Rico. The more cautious amongst us would claim it was a gamble but, despite not even knowing where the Island was at first, Foley ventured to the Greater Antilles archipelago without a moment’s hesitation.
I always wanted to play outside of England for some reason. I was a young lad. I had no commitments, no girlfriend, no kids, nothing like that so it was just a case of going over and giving it a try. I went with an open mind and it was like one big holiday.
The Island of Enchantment’s sobriquet couldn’t have been apter. Early morning training sessions were followed by palm trees, piononos and piña coladas on the Island’s balmy balnearios. With a happy-go-lucky attitude and an open mind, Foley revelled in his new location, lifestyle and, most importantly, his football.
I enjoyed it more there. There was a lot of Caribbean and South American players who tried to play football the right way rather than just booming it, which Hartlepool would have to do just to try and win games. I think I improved as a player over there. They don’t know how to punt it down the line like we do.
Two months after setting out on his Caribbean quest, Foley was stepping out into the ear-splitting cacophony of 30,000 vuvuzelas.
Being the Island’s main team meant they would play in the CONCAF Champions League and, with frosty mud-slinging reserves games still fresh in the mind, Foley was taking on, and winning against, the likes of Beckham rather than Barnet.
It was my first year there. I was about 22 and, growing up being an English lad, he [Beckham] was the man but I was actually more impressed with Landon Donovan. He was probably the best player I’ve played against. I’m surprised he never made it to the very very top because he was on another level.
However, not all his Champions League appearances were drenched in such awe and mystique.
It was a Champions League game in Mexico and, because I was a white European, I was under 24-hour surveillance at the hotel overnight in case I got kidnapped. There was a federale outside in a balaclava with a gun in his hand. I didn’t sleep a wink that night!
Yet, after savouring every moment, Foley’s time in prepossessing Puerto Rico was haplessly derailed. The Islanders folded overnight and Foley was begrudgingly forced to proceed to new pastures.
“It was all very political. It was actually to do with President Obama. The guy, who was his man in Puerto Rico, used to plough money into the Club. He lost in the re-elections and the Club just went. I had the decision to go to Minnesota, who are now in the MLS, or to go to Fort Lauderdale in Florida, where I’d be living the life in Miami but that’s when it went tits up because I got injured straight away.”
I still feel a little bitter about it now because it wasn’t a case of being not good enough. It was taken away from me a bit cruelly. In England, the injury would have been sorted in eight weeks, over there it took 18 months just to get seen.
Enchantment turned to disillusion and a despondent Foley came back to English football lovelorn.
Disinclined to glimpse at the sport on TV, let alone grace the pitch, he turned his back on the sport which had provided him with such an unrelenting wave of wax and wane. It wasn’t until 18 months later, after a friendly five-a-side game, that his blinking spark was reignited.
At the age of 28, he rejoined his hometown club, South Shields F.C. His confounding chronicle would continue as the Club became the unheralded conquerors of non-league football, winning 32 games back-to-back and consecutive promotions, as well as lifting the FA Vase Trophy at Wembley.
Foley departed, with a heavy heart, at the beginning of this season, to join Spennymoor F.C. three leagues above.
“The way South Shields is run, I’m sure they will go up and become a Football League club. It was tough to leave but I was 30 and wanted to play at a higher level. It would’ve been a stale three years there because, by the time they were there, my time would probably be over.”
It was like that one last chance saloon and it’s worked out well. We’re cruising at the moment and hopefully, we can get promoted into the Conference this year and then the Club goes full-time. If that happens it’ll have all been worth it and if it doesn’t then at least I gave it a good try.
The youngest player to adorn the Hartlepool shirt, when he made his professional debut at 16, some 15 years ago, you will scarcely encounter another man who’s gone through football’s highs and lows with such fearless fascination.
His career, in all likelihood, hasn’t played out in the way he predicted when he set that record all those years ago, yet it’s more unique than he, or anyone else, could have possibly imagined. He pioneered his way to Puerto Rico, where many lesser would shrink, enjoyed extraordinary experiences and returned with a treasure chest of tales.